Conservative Theology

My Love Affair with a Buddhist Nun


've been reading Sister Chan Kong's Learning True Love: Practicing Buddhism in a Time of War for a class.  It is a very interesting first-person look at the Vietnam war from a Buddhist perspective.  Reading the book, I've grown to like Sister Chan more and more.  There are several reasons for this:


  • Unlike modern people in the "peace movement", Sister Chan's desire for peace was truly apolitical.  She took the time to look at the war from everyone's perspective, and to try to understand why different groups believed the way they did.
  • Unlike many modern people who want "universal health care", Sister Chan actually worked to provide real health care to real people.
  • Unlike many modern people who are concerned about jobs, Sister Chan actually worked to create real jobs for real people, and create new income streams and real productivity for the poor, and not makework jobs just to keep people busy.  At the end of the day, the people that Sister Chan helped were whole - they didn't depend on Sister Chan for their daily needs, but instead were able to provide for them themselves
  • Sister Chan worked almost exclusively through volunteer organizations.  That is, she never forced anyone to give anything, but instead allowed people to give generously to make a difference in people's lives.  


In the end, though she would never consider to label herself as such, I think Sister Chan is pretty much a model citizen of "compassionate conservatism" (NOTE - I am not talking about GWB's compassionate conservatism, which was often times a soft socialism).  She sees a need, she gets it met by working with others to achieve a common goal, and she works with people who give generously rather than forcing things from everyone.


It's also interesting that, while Sister Chan's organization had many problems with their Nationalist government (i.e. South Vietnam before the communists took over), it was nothing compared to their complete inability to operate under the communist government.  


This is also interesting because it seems, simply from the facts presented in the book (though I am certain Sister Chan would not argue this way), that there was indeed a justification for the Vietnam war - and that those fighting for the South knew exactly what the problems would be if the communists took over, and that those fears actually came true when they did.  I think a careful reading of Sister Chan's book reveals that the communist/socialist mentality actually squashed the ability for real improvement and real community to take place, rather than empower it.  Sister Chan was able to be compassionate before the communist takeover, and was basically forbidden to be compassionate afterwards.


So, while I respect and agree to some extent with the many criticisms of capitalism offered by many of its opponents, I think that they miss the big picture.  Compassion only works when it is done from the heart - which is another way to say "voluntarily".  Compassion is equivalent to oppression when it is mandated, because how could you mandate compassion?  As soon as you try, it becomes something else - namely, oppression.


Should capitalists be more compassionate?  Absolutely.  Should we work towards peace and understanding? Certainly.  Should we help the poor in any way we can? Without a doubt.  But to turn these excellent ideals into forced, governmental programs is to create oppression from compassion, and to exterminate all real compassion from society.

Anyway, the book is really good, although slow in parts.  It really offers a different perspective on the war than you will find from pretty much anyone in the United States on the right or the left.